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Landlord headaches

Published September 08. 2012 09:02AM

A friend of mine stopped me the other day to ask if I was still involved with the Summit Hill Council because he had a question. I told him I was not for the last several years, but I would be more than happy to help him if I could. He asked me what I knew about Summit Hill's landlord ordinance. Did they have one? And if so, what did it cover?

I had to admit to him that I thought they recently talked about one, and I even believe it may have been passed earlier this year, but I wasn't sure when I discussed it with him. What I do know is the borough has its share of problems with landlords just like most other towns in this area do. When I was on council and even prior to council we had to deal with the irresponsibility of one property owner who left their property to be condemned and a hazard to the adjacent properties in the row home in which it was located. This property cost the taxpayers of Summit Hill thousands of dollars because of their irresponsibility in maintaining it before the town was finally able to tear it down.

This property and others as well as other issues led me to run for council in 2003. Dr. Rich Vermillion unsuccessfully ran two years prior when I ran for mayor and while we were not successful in that turn, I was able to win a seat two years later. I brought Rich's concerns about properties and landlords to the table when I was seated and we discussed it. I prodded council to hold public hearings about a proposed landlord ordinance as well as a stricter animal control ordinance stemming from an incident where a property owner created a public nuisance by leaving their cats unattended and urinating in their basement as well as another situation where a dog attacked a child. In addition, we had an ongoing problem with irresponsible cat owners who leave their cats out at night to roam and mess on other people's properties. As a side note, that may be fine in a rural area, but when you live in a town, you create a health hazard for your neighbors not to mention endangering the cats as well.

The animal ordinance is comprehensive and covers the subject quite thoroughly from nuisance barking to animal attacks and there was even a provision added that fined owners who left their cats out without a license. Yes, Summit Hill requires a license for cats especially those whom owners leave roam. They can be confiscated and impounded and their owners face fines for such violations.

The other ordinance we worked on was the landlord ordinance. In 2004, Summit Hill was at the forefront of dealing with the situation. I helped with several hearings to explain what we proposed. It was quite simple. Landlords needed to keep their taxes and utilities paid current. They needed a designated agent within 30 miles of the borough who could be held to the carpet if there was an issue, and they were required to have their properties inspected and up to code at all times. Those who complied would be issued either a license for a time period or a permit for an indefinite rental. The license accommodated those who had high turnovers in their properties while the permit would work for a long time resident and would last until that resident moved. Tenants were required to have moving permits as well.

If there was a violation reported and the landlord was convicted by the magistrate, their license or permit would be revoked on their property until the violation was corrected. I even pushed for nuisance laws that would allow the eviction of those tenants who broke the law multiple times. This part did not make it into the ordinance.

When that ordinance passed, it was on a 6-1 vote if I recall. The entire borough council supported it save one lone dissenter. Summit Hill was the first to have that ordinance, but they didn't have it long. When I left council after narrowly losing re-election, the new council's first order of business was to repeal it claiming it was redundant. It was so redundant that they stripped away this protection for the people of that community for selfish reasons. If it was redundant, it would never have passed and I would not have spent two years working toward its adoption.

Thanks to that decision Summit Hill went from being the leader to chasing the tail end of the pack as every other community around us adopted similar and stronger ordinances. We could have been the first, but self-centered agendas did a disservice to the people of this borough and I told those councilmen that for the last seven years. So why didn't Summit Hill have the protection against blight until earlier this year? It's because personalities got in the way of protecting the public and led to repealing a strong piece of legislation that would have protected the town.

This should be a lesson as we face elections this fall. This country is in a precarious position and we should not be blindly falling into lock step with the party "just because". We all need to think for ourselves and do what is right, not what is popular.

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